Late one rainy night in southern California, cell phones buzzed across the campground, all receiving the same message. Within a few minutes, people headed out into the dark, chilly downpour. One of their neighbors had a leak in their rig.
The community began to rush toward the rig with tools, tarps, and ladders all in an urgent effort to help a family weather the storm. Leading the charge and rallying the troops was Frank Dostie, stepping up once again into a familiar role—helping meet needs wherever he sees them and encouraging others to do the same.
After retiring from a career with the Army National Guard, Frank Dostie and his family are now full-time RVers who focus their travels around new ways to continue their service-oriented life.
A career of military service
Frank enlisted in the Army at 19, but after a hiatus, served most of his career in the Army National Guard. Though he began in a part-time role, which is more common in the National Guard, his leadership potential was soon recognized and he was asked to serve full-time on active duty. It started as an opportunity to further his education and prepare for a future career, but the role was such a good fit that it became his career.
As much as he enjoyed his job, Frank regretted how much time he spent away from his wife, Shelley, and daughters Bethany and Georgianna. Even when he wasn’t deployed, his days started early and ended late, so he missed having time with his family. He also deployed twice, to Kuwait and Kosovo. After his second deployment, the Dosties decided to make a change to have more freedom and family time.
After 24 years of military service, Frank Dostie retired.
Trials on the homefront
Earlier in his career, during his deployment to Kuwait, the family walked through a valley that shaped who they are today. A deployment is a strain on any family, but just a month after Frank left, Shelley was diagnosed with cancer.
On her own to care for their girls, ages 1 and 7 at the time, she was suddenly faced with surgery and weeks of radiation treatments. Frank returned home for two weeks to be with her for her surgery and initial recovery, but Shelley would be unable to care for her young daughters alone for many weeks. While Frank was given the option not to return to Kuwait, the couple agreed that he should honor the commitment he had made to his unit.
Their church community rallied around them after Frank returned to Kuwait, and for 6 weeks someone was with Shelley 24/7 to help care for her and her girls. Friends brought meals, did laundry, and drove Bethany to and from her school and activities. Their Army community stepped up too, helping with meals and providing funding to pay for any needed services.
Looking back, Shelley says she would not change a thing. She admits that she underestimated how difficult treatment would be, but she is thankful for the experiences they had and what they learned during that season. Finding themselves in need of help and receiving such an overwhelming outpouring of support from their community was truly life-changing.
A home on wheels
All the while, Shelley harbored a dream of extended travel. When she talked about selling their house and living in an RV, however, the rest of the family didn’t take her seriously.
Before Frank left for Kosovo, she decided to skip winter in New England and take the girls to Florida while he was gone. She had been saving money to purchase an RV, and when they saw a 29-foot Class C Fleetwood Jamboree from 2000 listed on Craigslist, they decided to look at it.
The rig would eventually become their home. The couple had no RV experience, did very little research, and never even looked at another rig. Nearly four years later, they don’t regret their choice.
Frank returned from Kosovo and joined his family in Florida. During his 30-day leave, Shelley made it her mission to make him fall in love with the RV lifestyle. She planned a route through a series of beautiful places to try to show life on the road from its best side.
The trip was wonderful and when they returned home, Frank was sold on RV life. Mission accomplished! But the beautiful surroundings were not what caused his change of heart. More powerful than a mountain vista was watching his girls play together, instead of spending time alone in separate rooms.
He saw how all their relationships changed for the better through time and shared experiences. He witnessed the amazing spirit of community among RVers. Then, when they were back in their house, he watched all these things start to slip back to the way they were before. It wasn’t long before that house was listed for sale and the Dosties moved in to their home on wheels.
A purpose to their travels
At first the Dosties were on an extended vacation, enjoying their family time and hard-earned retirement. But after having dedicated themselves to service for so many years, traveling simply for their own enjoyment felt empty. They longed to use their time for something more useful. They briefly considered finding paying jobs, but that didn’t feel right either.
“We’re able to survive with my pension,” Frank says. “Why work for more things when we could work to help people?”
So the Dosties find ways to serve as they travel. They simply watch for needs around them and then try to help. That might mean climbing up on someone’s roof with a tarp during a rainstorm, or building a ramp for a mom with adopted, medically fragile children.
They also seek out opportunities to help non-profit organizations along their path. From volunteering at food pantries to packing supplies for the Global Aid Network, the Dosties have served from coast to coast. Their favorite opportunities are those where the girls, who are now 10 and 16, can also participate.
Frank and Shelley were raised to value volunteerism and they want to pass along those values to Bethany and Georgianna by serving together, side by side, whenever possible.
Currently, they are working to equip their rig to be able to participate in disaster relief. They need sufficient solar energy to go into areas without electricity or fuel to run their generator. The severity of recent hurricane seasons has reinforced the sense of calling they feel to take advantage of their mobile lifestyle and respond quickly wherever there is need.
RVers could change the world
In their travels, the Dosties have encountered many other RVers who long for a similar sense of purpose in their nomadic lives but have struggled to find the right outlet for their gifts and talents.
Frank and Shelley believe that if more RVers knew how to find ways to help others, this community could make a huge difference in the world. They share their story to let others know that it’s possible to find meaningful service opportunities while on the road.
The Dosties do not want to call attention to themselves. Their service is inspired and motivated by their faith and is in response to how much support they themselves have received. It feels natural to them to pay it back—or forward—now that they have the time and freedom to do so.
Helping others is both rewarding and energizing. They serve, not for recognition of any kind, but simply for the joy of doing so. “It’s our purpose,” Shelley says. “When we’re not serving, we’re like a ship without a rudder.”